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Mental Health Monday: Have your eating habits changed during pandemic? Could indicate bigger issues

We met with Bekah DeWitt, a nutritionist, dietician and owner of Nutrition LLC. She tells us, “Your mood does affect the foods that you gravitate towards..."

HUNTSVILLE, Ala — Have you noticed your eating habits changing during the pandemic? Whether you’re consuming less, more, or finding yourself reaching for different types of food-- this change could be shedding a light on a bigger issue.

Our Sydney Stallworth tells us why you might need to be concerned on this week’s Mental Health Monday.

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We met with Bekah DeWitt, a nutritionist, dietician and owner of 'Nutrition LLC.' in Huntsville and Madison. She tells us, “Your mood does affect the foods that you gravitate towards, for sure.”

The International Food Information Council Foundation says more than 40% of parents in the United States are snacking more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a separate survey, they found that more than four out of five respondents say the coronavirus pandemic has changed their food habits. This means they're being led to cook, eat, shop and think about food differently. The change could be for a number of reasons. 

Our team checked in with Monretta Vega, a psychotherapist and counselor in Huntsville. Vega tells us why it's important to keep an eye out for any changes in behavior when monitoring your mental health. She says, “There could be some fear, and that fear can turn into anxiety, and that anxiety can turn into depressing feelings and emotions. So, any changes in appetite, an increase or decrease; any changes in sleep-- an increase in sleep or a decrease in sleep. Are you getting a little bit more irritable? Are you frustrated?” 

Bekah DeWitt to tells us how some of these changes could look in the kitchen. She says, “Definitely with depression, you kind of go towards those ‘quick energy’ foods because you have low energy or no energy to cook things… Food is just such a source of comfort. It releases all those endorphins in our mind. And it does bring that kind of relief and is more of a ‘mood-lifter’ for those brief moments.”

If you find yourself turning to food more often than you usually would during the pandemic, you might be struggling with something deeper.

DeWitt tells us she looks for these signs in her own life. She tells our reporter, “I struggle with depression as well and that’s one of my symptoms that I check in with myself on… If I’m eating things like chips and cookies more frequently… It’s just a way for me to check in and see what my mental health status is.”

Young people could be at an elevated risk. 

Even before the pandemic, childhood obesity was described as a pandemic of its own. Added stress and anxiety, could cause more young people to turn to unhealthy eating. 

RELATED: Childhood obesity concerns rise during pandemic

Some parents might notice changes in their child's behavior and eating habits, even weight.  Bekah DeWitt offers some advice. She says, “I never put weight loss or anything like that as a goal. A realistic goal would be something like I want to have more energy or ‘I want to be able to do something I haven’t been able to do.” 

Food habits are important to pay attention to, especially at a time like this, when people are trying to be as mindful as they can about their health. DeWitt adds, “The way you eat can affect the way your medications work on you.”

But, clearing out the pantry of any and all "junk food", isn’t the best way to handle the situation. 

It's important to note, if you’re struggling with your relationship with food, you should pay attention and seek help. 

According to NPR, eating disorders are skyrocketing during the pandemic. Hotline calls to the National Eating Disorders Association have been up by 70-80%. 

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RELATED: 75% of consumers have indicated that they plan to shop online this year. That's up about 15% from last year.